At first glance, these look like great plates of food. These reflect a restaurant that has obviously understood our allergy requirements and nailed it. Right?
Actually, these represent a lunch that almost didn’t happen. An experience that certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth and almost resulted in an outright refusal to stay anywhere that could treat an allergy family so badly. I’m a keen proponent of giving praise where it’s due, especially in the world of free from eating out, but rarely will I actively name and shame those who get it so absolutely wrong. However, I am so incensed by our bad experience that I just couldn’t stay quiet this time.
We recently found ourselves in the Somerset town of Street, home to the Clarks village outlet stores and decided to head in to see if we could pick up any last minute bargains ahead of our summer holiday. Having arrived and parked our car, both children started mumbling about a need for food and we decided to start our shopping trip on a good note and have lunch. Whilst the map indicated that G’s favourite, Pizza Express, could be found on the far side of the shops, we thought we’d give a brand new eating out experience a try and opted for Frankie and Benny’s instead.
It has been a long, long time since we last ate there and, to be perfectly honest, it will be an even longer time before I choose to step foot in one of their restaurants ever again. We asked for their allergy menu, made some key choices and then waited for our waitress to arrive to start the ordering process. G was keen to have their GF pepperoni pizza and eager to exert her new-found confidence by ordering her own complicated requirements. And that’s where the problems began.
G asked to have their GF American Hot, without chillis and replacing the mozzarella with goats cheese, something we do the world over and something that has never been a problem. The waitress said that wasn’t possible and, when we explained that we needed the pizza to be both gluten- and dairy-free, she shrugged her shoulders saying that the pizza wouldn’t be dairy-free if we replaced the normal cheese with goats cheese instead. I patiently explained that G has a problem with the cows’ milk protein and can in fact tolerate goats cheese ok. The waitress walked off to “check the label” in the kitchen, before marching back to triumphantly announce that the label said it contained milk, so we couldn’t make that change.
I’ll be honest, I was slightly frustrated by now and so asked if it was possible to either see the goats cheese they use or perhaps instead, talk to the manager. I was polite in both my tone and my words, but determined that dealing with the restaurant manager would be a safer option for us and so our waitress’ response stunned me. She told me that the manager had told her it wasn’t a safe alternative and when I asked again if we could talk directly to the manager as M’s needs were considerably more complicated, she threw her hands in the air and rather rudely informed me that she was refusing to serve us because of my attitude.
In another time and place, I would have insisted on leaving right then, but I had 2 hungry children to feed and I didn’t want to start the ordering process all over again. Mike took over talking to the manager and the resulting plates of food were the success we needed them to be. We received an apology for our waitress’ attitude and reassurance that they would be very careful in preparing G and M’s lunches. They arranged a special drink for M – lemonade with vanilla- and worked hard to ensure the rest of our experience went without a hitch. I can accept that perhaps our waitress was having a bad week, my work week hadn’t been the easiest either, but for someone working in the service industry to be so dismissive and rude to a customer with additional requirements is completely unacceptable in my book. It’s a shame because both children really enjoyed their meals when they arrived, but if I never go back to Frankie and Benny’s with them, it’ll be too soon.